Inching round Indonesia – Part I

Arriving at Bali’s Denpasar airport, I’m driven through the sprawl of Kuta to my hostel. The journey was pitched at 350 rupiahs. We settle on sixty. This becomes a theme…

Once arrived, a small collective of us head off surfing. One English guy is relishing the company after spending a couple of days with someone he ‘thought was alright, until he started talking about eating babies’??

Kuta is a scrambled and loud mess of shop touts, bars and massage spas. At night, Australians are out en masse and the largest clubs offer endless free drinks between 9-10am. And no entry fee. Whilst this seems overly generous, it does create a partially incapacitated audience lacking in good judgement. In due course, the price of drinks rocket, and a sizeable chunk stick around.

I move to a super duper luxury hotel (£6 per night…) send a box of warm layers home, nap (top 10) and meet Alex (henceforth Dinky) at the airport. With a couple of others we head to tripadvisors #1 eatery, Fat Chow. Take away one letter and that is how I felt after hoovered up their delicious offerings.

The following day we chuck ourselves about on surfboards and Dinky visits a shady backstreet currency exchange. After a taxi ride to Padang Bai we find ourselves hussled into the Tourist Information building (shed), which has chickens scratching around the desk. We are sold tickets to Gili Trawangan, then spend 4 hours on a ferry which takes us to Lombok. Fail. We entertained ourselves along the way by getting a Balinese man to practise his English by reading to us from Wuthering Heights.

We eventually find ourselves in the small coastal town of Singgigi. The ocean currents are fierce but thankfully run parallel to the beach. The force is impossible to swim against, but makes for some cruisey snorkelling. A long walk back up the beach and you can ride the lazy route to your hearts content.

After booking a 3 day trek up Mount Rinjani, the volcanic peak of Lombok, we carb load on a trio of bread, rice and potatoes. Our pick up arrives at 4.30am. The driver has one eye and hotboxes the car with his cigarette smoke.

In light of the peak being over 3,000 metres above sea level, we are advised to hire trousers and jackets. Before we set off, we have to nag endlessly until some clothes are produced. We are rewarded richly with an eclectic mix of garments which would look at home in an M&S advert from the 70s. Please see photo below.

Our woes are deepened when we realise the company are one porter short. As a result, a boy who looks 14 ends up carrying our backpack on his front, with another on his back. We feel quite evil, until we spy the porters transporting the food and tents. For each man, about 30kg are bundled up and attached to either end of a 2 metre length of bamboo. This is then balanced on their shoulders as they run, climb and shimmy their way up the tracks, in flip flops! We spied a couple of people on the fancy version of our trek and their porters were carrying a blender…

The Rinjani trek puts the Cuidad Perdida (Colombia) and Tongariro Crossing (New Zealand) to shame. It is brutal. I lost my lungs more than once. The scenery was better than kittens, but didn’t stop camera tripods from looking like very attractive zimmerframes.

Dinky talks about cycling to work at the BBC after I got her in the habit when working together at L’Oreal. I proudly proclaim that I have changed her life to which she answered that I haven’t, but I have changed her thighs. And what strong sparrow legs she has!

When the group are discussing the value of the trek, we realise we have been monumentally ripped off by our agent, Mr. Abel. Three times the normal amount ripped off. And we thought we were getting a steal! Have the last 8 months taught me nothing?!?!

The highlight (and lowlight) of the trek was waking at 1.30am to reach the summit for sunrise. The volcanic scree forms a precarious path of unfathomable inclines. It is also being blasted by arctic winds. Whilst we wait for first light we huddle together like penguins to abate wild shivering. We have socks on our hands.

After the final days descent (via volcanic crater lake and bubbling geothermal pools) we revel in victory. Bizarrely, for the last 500 metre the Swiss lady in the team hitches a lift on the back of a moped driven by an Indonesian dwarf.

We head to the inert Gili Meno island for some much deserved r and r. Our small wooden boat is already struggling to contain a full restaurants worth of bamboo furniture. Locals and unkempt travellers are loaded on top. We have to keep moving from side to side to avert sinkage. It feels unbalanced enough for me to be holding a small bag with just passports, cash and bank cards, ready to jump ship. Whilst making the crossing, Dinky and I continually assess and agree the direction in which we would swim.

Thankfully, we make it unscathed and after a day of doing less than little we hop over to Gili Trawangan. Bicycles and horse drawn carts are the only island transport. After thinking better of a tandem we ride regular bikes round the perimeter, stopping for a snorkel on the way. We witness a poisonous sea snake attacking its prey and chase squids (they win). After shelling out for a sports massage for my aching limbs, I walk away partially crippled and regretful.

A speed boat bumps us back to Bali as we sit on the roof for Burn Fest 2014. We arrive red and rattled to our hotel in Seminyak. It’s pretty odd. There is a huge painting of a puppy listening to an iPod and the proudly displayed certificates make reference to a completely different establishment. But it’s okay, because the rooms come with a pet cockroach. We name ours Mr. Abel.

After a couple of withered salads we head to a flashy resort, Cocoon, to sup cocktails and pretend we are travelling with Samsonite suitcases. Alas, we cannot deny our roots as by the end the night we are eating deep fried chicken skin (surprisingly good) in a local joint.

The next day Dinky decides to SPOIL EVERYTHING by having a trapped nerve in her neck. We have to cancel our trapeze lesson. No, really. Unlikely as it may sound! We decide to walk 5 hours to the airport to stroke the bellies of planes as they land. Turns out there’s heavy security and you can’t get so close. Whodathunkit?

We dissolve the evening with pirated films and comatose ourselves on a plethora of high salt and/or sugar content substances.

The following morning Dinky flies onwards. I’ll be missing that face. Alas, I must venture alone once more…

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